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Sorry, Your Kid Doesn't Have 'Special Needs'

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Guest blogger Jana Mathews: There once was a time not so long ago when every minivan in America had a bumper sticker that read, "My child is an honor student at X elementary school." In recent years, however, this classic marker of distinction has been replaced by something else.

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Instead of battling over whose child is the smartest, many parents these days are engaged in a heated debate over whose child's "disability" requires the most number of special accommodations.

I got a taste of how bad things have become at Back to School Night, where parents of my daughter's classmates couldn't stop yapping about how hard it is to parent a child with ____ disability (fill in the blank, almost anything applies!).

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Johnny's pollen allergy and Suzie's crooked teeth are not disabilities, at least not in the world of normal people. Neither are Billy's fear of ghosts and Mary's dislike of green vegetables.

Having one of these "conditions" and others like them, I regret to say, does not warrant labeling your child as "special needs," but rather, simply means that your child (and every child) is special, as in unique.

Rather than obsessing over what your child can't eat or do, try putting all of that time and energy into celebrating and cultivating the many talents, skills, and attributes with which your child is blessed.

Of course that's hard to do when so much of your day is spent garnering sympathy for the personal sacrifices you make coping with junior's most serious developmental delay: his difficulty using scissors.


38 comments so far | Post a comment now
Dorothy October 27, 2008, 8:51 AM

These women are shallow…They want people to feel sorry for them, and their children. You are also setting up the children to think they flawed. Shame on you!
Stop bull-shitting yourselves, and do something nice for someone else who might have some real issues that they need assistance with.

Anonymous October 27, 2008, 9:17 AM

I totally agree! I see people who’s children are “normal” and the parents are trying to label them as autistic or ADHD or having sensory issues. Usually the kids seem fine but the parents seem like they are excited by the thought that their child will get to have the extra attention. It makes me sick because most of these parents don’t realize how lucky they are that their kids are normal and healthy! (I am not saying that there are not children who have the issues I listed above-I am referring to the parents who try to make their kids fit into one of these issues.)

Uly October 27, 2008, 9:55 AM

Alternatively, anonymous, these children, with much effort and help, appear normal on a shallow level to people who don’t know them well; but if you were with them most of the time or at home you’d see that they aren’t, in fact, normal.

My mother worked for years to get me a diagnosis of autism when I was a child. Back then, they weren’t handing those diagnoses out to kids who could speak. So she was told that was just a “bright girl who reads a lot”. Repeatedly. Meanwhile, I was going on meltdown several times a week - completely out of my own control, inexpressably (and, fortunately, inexplicably) scared that I was about to die. I couldn’t wear much of my clothing. Couldn’t tie my shoes until I was ten, nor zip up my jacket unless somebody else started it, nor write legibly, nor - despite my good vocabulary and high reading level - consistently speak clearly (or, for that matter, appropriately). Couldn’t brush my own hair, nor have anybody else brush it without a fight, nor have it touching my neck. Didn’t have any friends, that was obvious. (Wouldn’t’ve cared if the other children weren’t vicious beasts half the time, but that’s beside the point.)

Nowadays I’m told it’s “obvious”, but I know I’m much less obviously autistic than I was as a child.

I don’t know what strangers think, when meeting me for the first time. I’m sure they don’t automatically go (unless they’re experts on the subject) “Oh, she’s on the spectrum!”, but it’s no less true just because I’m not walking around like a stereotype every second of the day.

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Susan October 27, 2008, 3:33 PM

As the mother of a child with Lissencephaly I find this article (and those parents) rather stupid (and I hate using that word!). My daughter was diagnosed at 6 weeks of age because she had begun to have seizures. An MRI revealed that her brain had stopped developing sometime near the end of the first trimester or beginning of the second. She looks like any other 13 year old but has the physical capabilities of a 3 month old. She wears a diaper, gets her food through a tube in her stomach, has scoliosis, seizures and is prone to upper resp. infections. At 85 pounds she is not exactly light to carry and I must get her in and out of the tub, the wheelchair, the carseat (I cannot afford a wheelchair van) and carry her around the house. Sometimes I don’t get any sleep for days because she is ill and needs breathing treatments every few hours or is having so many seizures I am afraid to go to sleep. She cannot walk, talk, hold objects in her hand, hold her head up on her own … she requires total care and attention.
She is also funny and sweet and beautiful and a joy to be around. Her younger brother adores her and she tolerates him as best she can (in true big sister fashion). She loves to paint with me, she loves going to the botanical gardens, loves kittens and dolphins. Her favorite music is the Cheetah Girls and she had a blast at her last Raven concert. She loves books on tape and right now she is listening to the third Fablehaven but is anxious to move on to the Twilight series.
Everyone has problems and those problems may seem small compared to the problems of another person but for that person living them they can seem huge. Those parents sitting around lamenting such trivial things … for them those things are a big deal. I think maybe they need a reality check but that is just my opinion.

AK Mom October 27, 2008, 4:42 PM

It seems to me that this article’s point was not to minimize the hard work and difficulties of families who have truly disabled children, but to point out those parents who’s children may have considerably small difficulties (seasonal allergies, needs braces, picky eaters, can’t cut with scissors, sloppy writers etc etc etc…) who almost glamorize their child’s challenges to make conversation and point out how great they-themselves are for meeting these challenges. These parents are one-uppers with the my kid needs…. or the world will end… type of statements.
Let’s face it, we all have tough days as parents, but, making mountains out of mole hills when it comes to challenges gives kids a skewed view of the world that can be dangerous as they become adults.
The world is not going to bend or change to fit your child’s needs, your child must learn to manage those needs within the world that exists. Kids who constantly have accommodations made for them unnecessarily, are going to have a hard time adjusting to life as an adult. And these helicopter parents are going to be left wondering why their mid-20-to-30-something kids can’t keep a job.
Your kid has seasonal allergies? get’em some Flonase. Doesn’t cut well with tiny scissors? so you wind up with some messy arts & crafts project, that’s what kindergarten is all about, enjoy it while it lasts. Your kid has sloppy writing? let them learn to type… and I do mean let them learn Do Not do it for them, that will only delay the learning process and before you know it you’ll be typing your kids’ college papers.

NoClueThere October 27, 2008, 7:01 PM

Perhaps you should inform yourself of some facts before you write a blog. Parents who have kids who can’t use scissors have kids who have delays in fine motor skills. My kid can’t jump and this takes practice and a physical therapist to work out. Just because someone like you can’t see a problem doesn’t mean it isn’t there. My child is smart and extremely verbal but has significant neurological problems that occur at random. On a good day, he’s better than any kid I’ve ever seen. On a bad day, it’s like Alzheimers. Perhaps you should try to spend ten seconds understanding someone else before you criticize them in this fashion. You are the one who should be thankful you have healthy kids. And by the way, services to advance the skills of these children to an average level is the law in every state. Get informed.

Anonymous October 28, 2008, 8:00 AM

Uly, I have four children-two of which have several medical and developmental problems. I understand that kids may have issues but look normal. If you looked at my two middle boys you would never guess that they eat via g-tubes, have significant fine and gross motor skills and verbal delays. They do not have diagnosis and the docotrs can’t say what their future will be. I was not talking bout parents of chidren who have “real” issues-you don’t generally see or hear them trying to one up the other parent with issues at the playground or in the waiting room. I understand, very well, that a child may look very normal yet have “real” issues.
I just wish that the parent’s whose children are healthy and “normal” would quit trying to label them and take the time to see how lucky they really are!

Jenny October 28, 2008, 9:11 AM

I think that you wrote this article for the “shock” value and controversy, shame on you. Im not going to justify my childs issues, I have no need to. But shame on you for making people feel even more distressed about their childs issues. Just because you see a normal child doesnt mean you really are looking at one, you are not there everyday, night and day. Are you a doctor or a specialist in all areas of pediatric disabilities? We families face enough challenges and heartache in dealing with these issues without having some ignorant person come along and tell us your kid isnt disabled you just have mental issues. A child doesnt have to be in a wheelchair to be disabled and if at all possible we prefer for our child to appear normal is any way possible so that they may try to live a normal life, we dont put a sign on their back saying LOOK AT ME, FEEL SORRY FOR ME, IM NOT NORMAL. We want them to blend in and learn to fit into society. Obviously some of us are doing a very good job (for those of us who have children that arent OBVIOUSLY disabled) because it provoked this sort of story from such an ignorant person.

Terra January 19, 2009, 5:56 PM

It must be nice to sit on your throne. My son is Autistic & some people notice, some don’t. From a social gathering in 10 minutes your ready to pass judgment on a parent? With all my sons therapy he “looks normal” but thanks to people like you I feel like I HAVE to say something. If someone has a true concern about their child why not educate instead of insult? Or better yet just ignore it & thank God you have healthy children? I do believe some kids are misdiagnosed & some parents are misguided. But do you not have anything better to do w/ your time than pick them apart? Walk a mile in my sons shoes & then have an opinion.

Jill January 19, 2009, 7:39 PM

There are a lot of morally outraged commentators, and the lot of you didn’t get the point. She’s not talking about children with autism or actual special needs. She’s talking about parents who will take something like a food allergy and make it into this huge issue, like their child might as well be brain-damaged or something. She’s talking about moms who need some kind of validation or recognition and so invent problems with their children that aren’t really there, or elevate minor problems into major ones. I know a mom whose daughter has a lazy eye, and to listen to the mom talk, having a child with a lazy eye is the biggest freaking deal in the world. It’s nauseating.

Leslie March 14, 2009, 1:18 AM

Lots of people are missing the point. Or would that just be me making light of someone else’s true disability?

irene March 27, 2009, 7:30 AM

Geee people and trying to make certain situations suit them you guys are missing the point as the Leslie and Jill said,
i just read one of the comments saying crooked teeth are a problem no offense but please get real i have crooked teeth but it dont affect the way my brain works and yeah certain parents make a fuss over things that are not disabilities and its annoying.and ps when your child has issues not everyone wants to hear about them ,some parents use their kids disabilities as a way of seek attention for themselves as well as the kids.

lexi April 7, 2009, 12:18 PM

As a parent with a child with a ‘real’ disability I totally find it so frustrating when people try to compare their child not walking by ten months to my having a child with autism.

Stop complaining already. Do you know what I’d do to have a child with crooked teeth instead of autism? Seriously. Get a hobby.

Mandy May 1, 2009, 1:22 PM

Totally agree with Lexi! I find this alot too. I actually have a child with special needs! She is almost 3 and started walking about a month ago and we couldn’t be happier. And we as parents focus on what she CAN do! We never say can’t with her ever! So when people whine and say their child is a month behind developmentally, I go off the grid. I think the important thing is to remember that the age markers for developmental milestones are ONLY guidlines! Every child is unique and does things in his or her own good time. ALL children should be celebrated for they CAN do! These parents should be ashamed of their behavior!!

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